Managing childhood ADHD at school

Posted on 29 July 2017

How do you know if your child has ADHD. Here are some tips on recognising and managing ADHD at school. 

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental problem in children – according to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is the most commonly diagnosed behavioural disorder in children under 18. The global prevalence of ADHD among schoolchildren is 5-9%, with boys more frequently affected (or diagnosed) than girls. The exact cause of the condition is unknown.

ADHD is characterised primarily by inattention, distractibility, impulsivity or physical restlessness (hyperactivity). Dr Elzabe Durr-Fitschen, counsellor at The Grove Primary School in Cape Town, recommends being alert to the following:

  • Short attention span and inability to sustain attention – your child doesn’t complete tasks.
  • Does not follow instructions – your child appears to be challenging authority, but he’s actually just forgetting what he’s supposed to do.
  • Impulsivity and aggression which affect social interactions at school – your child says and does things that annoy others, and/or shouts out the answers in class.
  • Constant movement – your child can’t sit still at his desk, is often out of his desk, and bothers his peers.
  • Forgetfulness and poor organisational skills – your child forgets books, homework and PT clothes.

‘The initial diagnosis is often subjective,’ says Dr Michele van Niekerk, a paediatrician at Mediclinic Hermanus.

‘Therefore, as much information as possible should be provided by parents, teachers or therapists. This should be reviewed and integrated by medical professionals familiar with ADHD, for instance specialised general practitioners, neurologists, paediatricians, psychiatrists or psychologists.’

‘An important and perhaps underestimated tool is an assessment of work done by a child in an environment where distraction is prevalent, i.e the classroom.’

How can you help your child cope better in class?

‘Very close liaison with your child’s teachers and learning support staff, and good cooperation between all, including following the suggestions and recommendations they give, is vital,’ says Dr Durr-Fitschen. ‘They see your child where he’s struggling most. They’re the experts and have your child’s best interests at heart.’

Setting up and maintaining a routine at home is also helpful. ‘If you give your child a good structure in which to operate, you’ll help him with his organisational difficulties,’ Dr Durr-Fitschen explains.

Learn as much about the condition as you can – go to talks and ‘read, read, read!’ says Dr Durr-Fitschen. She recommends the book Understanding ADHD: A parent’s guide to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Children by Dr C Green.

Research suggests that a poor diet may play a small role in ADHD, so make sure your child is eating a balanced diet, high in fruit, vegetables, fish, whole grains, nuts and legumes, and low in sweets and foods that contain artificial colourants, flavourings and preservatives.

Note: Naturally forgetful, fidgety, bored or excitable children are sometimes misdiagnosed with the condition. The immaturity of children who are young for their grade levels, and boredom in children with higher levels of intelligence, can lead to misdiagnosis. Additionally, other medical conditions (such as autism, bipolar disorder, hypoglycaemia and hearing problems) may mimic the signs of ADHD. Effective management depends on the correct diagnosis.

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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